Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Dragonswood - Janet Lee Carey
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin 
# of pages: 407 (hb)
Recommended for: All Ages

Wilde Island is not at peace. The kingdom mourns the dead Pendragon king and awaits the return of his heir; the uneasy pact between dragons, fairies, and humans is strained; and the regent is funding a bloodthirsty witch hunt. Tess, daughter of a blacksmith, has visions of the future, but she still doesn't expect to be accused of witchcraft.
 Like many other novels, Dragonswood ended up being different than what I expected. The Goodreads synopsis, in my opinion, doesn't accurately assess the plot. 
It's not like there's anything wrong with the novel; rather, I just didn't find it very enjoyable. For one thing, Dragonswood is very oddly paced and plotted. What is this novel about? A girl accused of witchcraft running from her persecutors? A mysterious wood made up of dragons, fairies and witches that is now endangered? An imposter seizing control of the island? A half-fey child trying to usurp power from the royal family? WHAT, exactly?! All these elements came together in a very sloppy sort of way, in my opinion. The plot changed directions so many times and it wasn't until about halfway through the novel that one unified plot came together. Judging by the other reviews, I'm one of the only reader who has noticed this. But Dragonswood, for this main reason, was a very disjointed and odd read.

As far as characters go, everyone was fairly ordinary. I'm getting annoyed, though, at every single female character in a medieval setting being a caricature of a modern, 'enlightened' woman. If I read one more novel about a girl complaining about marriage and being a man's 'property,' I'm gonna lose it.  Were there medieval trailblazer women who went against the norm? Sure, but it's like the handful of them have all been cast over and over again as protagonists in these novels! Take a hint from Juliet Marillier, who knows how to tow the line right down the middle: her heroines want more out of life and strive to be more than simpleton housewives, yet they're not against love and marriage if the right guy comes along. So when they do meet Wonderful Love Interest, they don't sound like a bunch of hypocrites. But poor Tess spends about 1/3 of the novel complaining about men, then all of the sudden decides she's in love. It was rather sudden. And kind of silly, given her numerous protestations. 
On the subject of Tess, also, I didn't really connect with her. Tess is also one of the most jaded characters I've seen in a while in YA lit, and while I'm actually intrigued by jaded and cynical characters (for obvious reasons, hur dur dur), in this situation, I felt like the author was shooting for 'jaded' and ended up with 'annoying.'
But even saying that, I still felt bad for Tess and I cared enough about her story to see this through to the end. And if Tess annoyed me at times, the supporting cast of characters was near infuriating. Tess' two friends Meg and Poppy end up on the run as well after Tess is forced - under torture - to out them as 'witches.' Okay, I'm sure this was the author's intention, but it absolutely infuriated me how much Tess was blamed and scapegoated for what happened.
So why am I giving this novel 3 stars? Well, because with all its faults, Dragonswood still did at least half of what I expect books to do: it entertained me, and I was thoroughly interested in what was going to happen next. Even if I was never 100% on board with the rather sloppy plot or 100% rooting for the characters, I was entertained. Also, I liked Janet Lee Carey's writing style and I like her historical fantasy setting of Wilde Island, which supposedly borders England.
Dragonswood is a decent read, and while I do recommend it, I'm not in any hurry to schedule a re-read.
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